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Vaccine push targets older youths

Local school districts require proof of Tdap vaccine for 6th- through 12th-graders

DeKALB – Even though diseases such as polio and rubella aren’t widespread anymore, protecting against them is still a priority for the DeKalb County Health Department. 

Jane Lux, the county’s public health administrator, said preventing diseases in enough people through vaccines can create “herd immunity,” which helps protect the most vulnerable: infants, people with chronic illnesses and senior citizens.  

“When enough people have been vaccinated, it helps protect the whole community,” she said.

It’s a message Lux is emphasizing as children return to school and as part of National Immunization Awareness Month. Whooping cough rates have risen statewide, so state leaders are requiring students entering sixth through 12th grades to show proof that they have had the Tdap vaccine, which protects against whooping cough, tetanus, and diphtheria.

Research shows immunity developed for these diseases during childhood starts to wane as people get older, Lux said. Children receive vaccines for them as part of their childhood vaccine schedule but as they head into their adolescent and adult years, the immunity weakens. 

Many older students have already received the Tdap vaccine and just need to show the proper documentation. The county health department partners with area school districts to notify parents and get students the vaccines they need.

Sue Voss, a certified nurse with DeKalb School District 428, said last year around 100 students in the district took advantage of the immunization clinics at the county health department.

“We always encourage our parents to get this done as early in the summer as possible so they are not being hit hard this time of the year getting appointments,” Voss said. 

District 428, like the Sycamore and Genoa-Kingston school districts, has a first-day exclusion policy. Under this policy, students aren’t allowed to attend school unless they can show they’ve had the proper vaccines or have an appointment scheduled to get them.

The state requires that at least 90 percent of students in each district comply with state vaccine requirements, but isolated cases of whooping cough can still surface. For example, Genoa-Kingston School District 424 saw several cases in the past two years, said Jane Olson, a certified nurse with the district. 

“Sometimes a student can come to school having been exposed and not necessarily exhibiting symptoms, not readily identifiable,” she said. 

In DeKalb County, two suspected cases of whooping cough were reported to the health department this year. Last year there were 22 reported cases, while in 2011 there were four. 

“Statewide, we’ve seen an increase of cases in the past years,” Lux said. 

The county health department offers low-cost vaccines for children ages 2 months to 18 years, so long as they meet federal eligibility guidelines. For more information, call 815-748-2460.

By the numbers

2: Suspected cases of whooping cough reported in 2013 for DeKalb County. 

22: Cases of whooping cough reported in 2012 for DeKalb County. 

4: Cases of whooping cough reported in 2011 for DeKalb County.

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